With broad smiles, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed receives – from Italian Defense Minister Guido Cozzetto “Tsehi” – the first aircraft manufactured in his country in 1935 and confiscated by the Italian government in the famous invasion of Abyssinia in the 1930s Was.
The image summarizes Rome's effort to reshape relations with its former sphere of influence, the Horn of Africa, and to create a new partnership away from the image of the colonizer that is stored in the memory of its people. This new effort comes under one that has seen notable Italian activity in recent years to strengthen Rome's presence in the region.
The importance Italy attaches to this region located in the east of the African continent is evidenced by its classification among the priority areas in the Strategic Partnership with Africa document released in 2020, in the light of the many issues that Rome has in mind in the region. In, most notably the fight against irregular migration.
Italy's constant headache
As a result of its geographical location in Southern Europe, Italy has, in recent years, become a major entry point for the movement of irregular migrants to the Old Continent, whose numbers rose to 172,000 in 2021 and 2022, before falling later on, making The government should declare a state of emergency.
In this context, the Horn of Africa represents one of the main sources of this flow of migrants, as figures – released by the Italian “ISUM” Foundation, specialist in immigration matters and irregular migrants – show Eritrea receiving Places alone among the ten nationalities that most reach Italian shores between 2014 and 2022, while in some years Eritrea represented 25% of this category.
This continued flow has made the issue of irregular migration a subject of controversy and competition, and a profitable stock on the Italian political stock exchange, pushing the Horn of Africa to the top of Rome's priorities, as officials Has continuously visited countries in this region. Has promised voters in his portfolio to find a solution to this dilemma.
The current Prime Minister, Georgia Maloney, was no exception, as she pledged to stop human waves coming from Africa, meaning that her success in achieving a major breakthrough in this file was a huge boost to her political and popular cred. Will be transformed into. And it will also reduce the economic burden allocated to meeting the needs of these migrants, as this expenditure on accommodation centers and reception services will exceed two billion euros in 2022, down from 2.77 billion in 2018.
In addition to the above, Rome is concerned with getting rid of the criticism that has affected its policy related to dealing with irregular migration, as reflected in the report released by Human Rights Watch for the year 2023, in which the Italian government Some of the programs have been described as “flawed.”
Investment in the energy sector represents one of Italy's priorities related to the Horn of Africa, taking advantage of the location of the ambition that Meloni announced earlier this year to make his country an energy hub for Europe. Have to change in the center. The shores of the Mediterranean Sea as the gateway to the old continent.
In his article, Arturo Varavelli, President of the European Council on Foreign Relations, believes that the war in Ukraine and its consequences have fueled this Italian ambition, as regardless of the outcome there will be tension in European-Russian relations in the long run. Will dissolve poison. The war in Ukraine, the practical meaning of which is the death of the German dream of becoming the main transit point to make way for Russian gas. There is room for other projects, including Rome.
In this context, the Horn of Africa gains great importance as it has large amounts of untapped oil and gas reserves. Ethiopia announced the discovery of 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in Somali territory, while some geological surveys estimate that large quantities of gas exist in Somali waters. Oil reserves are 30 billion barrels.
The Italian company Eni is one of the largest investors in energy in East Africa, and has activities in Somali offshore wells.
The Italian turn towards Africa in the last decade was driven by Rome's quest to avoid a long period of economic difficulties linked to the 2008 global financial crisis and its consequences, and by the good economic performance of many sub-Saharan Africans. The countries urged Rome to encourage their companies to invest in the African continent.
In this context, trade exchanges between Rome and Addis Ababa witnessed a major leap, as Italy became Ethiopia's first exporter and its third importer at the European level.
Italian investments in the Horn of Africa include work in a variety of sectors, as the Italian energy giant (Eni) is active in the Lamu Basin in Kenya, in addition to its investments in the biofuels sector in the country with projects providing 25,000 jobs. Are. opportunity. The activity of Italian businessmen has also emerged in the infrastructure sector, where the giant Waybuild company built the Gibe III and Renaissance dams in Ethiopia.
Italy's National Strategy towards Africa, released in 2020, called on Rome to play a leadership role in ensuring stability and peace in the Horn of Africa, as the region has become one of the hotspots for security threats and various forms of unrest. Has gone. Irregular migration to Europe via Italy.
The region's proximity to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait increased the geopolitical and geo-economic importance of the region to Rome, as the waterway is an essential crossing for international trade, with Italy being one of the world's seven largest economies. Is one of.
In this context, Rome was active in Operation Atalanta to combat piracy off the Somali coasts. In addition to its contribution to training the Somali police and army, it also established a military base in Djibouti. More recently, it became the most prominent advocate for the formation of a European naval force in the Red Sea to counter the challenges posed by recent Houthi activity.
make a plan friend
The Italian-African summit was an opportunity for Prime Minister Meloni to announce his vision called “The Italian-African Strategic Plan: Plan Mattei”, which will represent the backbone of Italian policy towards Africa, and whose influence will be reflected in the activity of Rome. Will be seen. Horn of Africa.
The plan represents a point where Rome's strategic interests in the African continent intersect, and is based on a comprehensive program of investment and partnerships in the energy sector, while accelerating the development of African countries in a way that Which contributes to curbing irregular migration flows. Through development cooperation, supporting entrepreneurship, and promoting sustainable and shared development.
Through this plan, Meloni is trying to present a different approach based on partnership and equality, away from the policies of other countries such as France and the exploitation that has characterized the discontent of Africans. It is an approach with a geopolitical dimension. Its objective is to reserve a place for Rome on a continent that has turned into an area of intense conflict between international and regional powers, described as follows: “For Africa New struggle.”
development cooperation diplomacy
One aspect of Italy's presence in the region is its development cooperation diplomacy, which is recognized as “an integral part of Italian foreign policy” through bilateral and multilateral partnerships.
In this context, Italian researcher Nino Sergi says that the countries of the Horn of Africa are among the countries prioritized in Italian cooperation programs and in the period from 2021 to 2023 the focus is mainly on Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan. Was.
Between 2021 and 2023, figures from the Italian Development Cooperation Agency show it spent about 110 million euros in Ethiopia alone and about 43 million euros in Somalia in activities such as mining, education, training, health, manufacturing and emergency response.
Eritrea surprises summit
The interest of turn-of-the-century countries in relations with Italy is evidenced by the participation of their leaders in various bilateral and collective summits, while the participation of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in the Italian-African summit was a notable event, as it was almost His first visit to the European continent in a decade.
Afwerki's multiple meetings in Rome revealed Eritrea's willingness to receive unconditional investment and assistance to implement internal reforms related to Asmara's human rights record, which a UN report systematically criticized for such practices. He has been accused of committing acts that could amount to crimes against humanity.
Eritrea's participation also signals its openness to developing its relations with Europe through the Gate of Rome, which, unlike the rest of the countries of the Western system, has maintained a certain degree of warmth in relations between the two sides.
Somalia is in the middle of war
In addition to aid and investment, security and military files are a priority in Mogadishu, which is interested in receiving support to develop its capacity to fight the al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen movement, including violating the UN embargo on arms imports. It was canceled in December 2023, more than three decades after it was approved.
On the other hand, Mogadishu is garnering international support in its diplomatic battle to undermine Ethiopian steps towards acquiring a port and a naval base in exchange for recognizing the independence of the breakaway Somaliland region, as per Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohammed said in his speech. The summit stated that “cooperation between Africa and Italy cannot be effective if this is violated.” An African country borders another country, and an example of this is Ethiopia's failed attempt to interfere with our country's independence.
Ethiopia and economic recovery
As for Ethiopia, which is thirsty for investment and economic aid, the partnership with Rome appears to be a lever for its economy, which is suffering as a result of the war on Tigray and its fallout.
Addis Ababa seeks to restore Western support for its role as a key ally in the Horn of Africa, which has seen a deterioration in the Abiy Ahmed government's relations with the United States and Western countries as a result of severe tensions. System in the background of many files, especially the war situation in Tigray.